UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES (AFP) – European leaders held out hope of arranging a last-minute summit to ease tensions between Iran and the United States (US), but US President Donald Trump vowed no let-up in pressure.
With world leaders gathered in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron made a fresh push for Trump to meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
Escorting a smiling Rouhani to a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Macron said that time was running short.
“If he leaves the country without meeting with President Trump, honestly this is a lost opportunity because he will not come back in a few months,” Macron said.
“And President Trump will not go to Tehran, so they have to meet now,” he said, as Johnson voiced agreement.
Macron has spearheaded efforts to arrange a historic summit, selling Trump on the idea last month as he hopes to salvage a 2015 denuclearisation accord with Iran.
But tensions have flared anew after attacks this month on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. The US blamed Iran, a finding backed this week by France, Britain and Germany.
In a speech full of praise of unilateralism and criticism of China, Trump made clear he would not ease economic pressure on Iran – a condition set by Rouhani for any meeting.
“As long as Iran’s menacing behaviour continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened,” Trump told the General Assembly.
“All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidise Iran’s bloodlust,” he said.
Trump last year pulled out of the nuclear agreement and imposed punishing sanctions.
Rouhani – responding to Trump’s speech in an interview with Fox News, which the tycoon president is known to watch avidly – said that the withdrawal from the nuclear accord had badly shaken confidence.
“We must create mutual trust,” Rouhani said. “If the government of the United States of America is willing to talk, it must create the needed conditions.”
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also called for a Rouhani-Trump meeting, said after seeing the two leaders that Iran’s condition on sanctions was “unrealistic,” although Macron said that “conditions have been met for a rapid resumption of negotiations.”
Macron warned in a speech to the General Assembly of further risks in the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia is also mounting a devastating air campaign in Yemen.